When multiple specific losses are sustained, are they paid consecutively or concurrently? The Court faced this question in Fields v. WCAB (City of Philadelphia), decided on November 14, 2014.
An employee was injured in the performance of her duties as a prison guard for the City. After multiple petitions were litigated, it was determined that the employee suffered the loss of use of her left arm (410 weeks), both legs (410 weeks for each leg), with a healing period of 25 weeks.
Initially, the City paid the awards concurrently; each week the payment reflected one week of benefits for each of the three losses. The City then unilaterally reduced the payments to one week at a time and argued that the losses had to be paid out consecutively, not concurrently.
The matter became the subject of a review and penalty petition with the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) deciding that the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) contemplated consecutive payments and not concurrent payments when multiple losses are suffered from the same injury. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) affirmed.
The Commonwealth Court agreed and affirmed the decision that the losses have to be paid consecutively unless a Commutation Petition was filed and approved the acceleration of the payments due. The Court noted that although the Act provides that the loss of two legs is a total disability, the Board has the power to determine otherwise and case law has also determined that the employee has a choice between receiving total disability or the payment of the specific losses.
Generally, if multiple specific losses are suffered from one injury they must be paid consecutively. For example, if a person loses a thumb on the left hand and an index finger on the right hand, the losses are paid consecutively. However, when an injury results in the loss of two arms or two legs there is a presumption of total disability which the carrier must pay until an election is made by the claimant to take specific loss benefits instead.
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